Tennessee’s hiring of Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin hasn’t done much to cool fan anger over the dismissmal of Bruce Pearl. The early results are in in the form of a non-scientific poll at The Knoxville News Sentinel’s website:
Happy with the hire: 25%
Not happy with the hire: 36%
Reserving judgement: 37%
When just 25% of the fans voting approve of the hire, that’s not a real good sign. One prominent UT booster — blogger Clay Travis — tweeted this:
Odds Bruce Pearl returns to NCAA Tourney before Cuonzo Martin goes for the first time? Nearly 100%.
Funny. If Pearl doesn’t get a lengthy ban from the NCAA for destroying the UT program — a nugget that surprisingly few Tennessee fans accept.
Even Pearl’s son Steven — who played for the Vols this year — had a rough tweet regarding Martin:
All I can do is laugh and say good luck sir
Of course, Steven has seen his dad’s fall from grace up close and at least has the excuse of a wounded heart to blame for his lack of decorum.
So we at MrSEC.com are going to jump in with both feet on this one too, right? I mean, we questioned Tennessee’s hire of Lane Kiffin and ripped the hire of Derek Dooley. We must really be prepared to toss some darts after this one, right? Right?
Wrong. Hey, if nothing else, Martin is the first coach in three tries (including Kiffin, Dooley and himself) to actually have a winning record as the time of his employment at Tennessee. That’s a start.
But here’s why this hire isn’t as bad — in our view — as many folks seem to think:
1. Martin showed class in returning to Springfield to meet with his team face-to-face about his departure. That’s becoming a rarity these days and it shows character. Considering Tennessee’s current mess, there’s nothing wrong with the Vols hiring someone with a little character. Richmond’s Chris Mooney would have been a perfect fit for UT had “major” NCAA violations from 2007 not come to light. Staring down the barrel of the NCAA’s elephant gun itself, Tennessee couldn’t afford to take any chances. Martin has a clean resume.
2. Martin is a B-level, mid-major candidate which is about all the UT administration could hope to land in the Pearl aftermath. NCAA sanctions. NCAA probation. A questionable roster. High expectations in spite of those last three points. Now toss in a lame-duck AD. Why would a “name” coach volunteer to take the Volunteer job at this point in time? They wouldn’t. And UT floated trial balloons at the Jamie Dixons and Sean Millers of the world. It’s not Martin’s fault that he was in the “and the rest” category of UT’s candidate list.
3. Martin won the Missouri Valley regular season title last year — a first for the school — and he was named the league’s Coach of the Year. His resume is short — three years in Springfield — but so is Shaka Smart’s at VCU. Smart’s had a helluva run after miraculously getting into the NCAAs, but pre-tourney, the names Smart and Martin would have been squarely side-by-side on any list of young, mid-major coaches.
4. His Missouri State players had only good things to say about their outgoing coach. Again, that’s not always the case when a coach splits.
5. The Gene Keady coaching tree has sprouted many successful branches: Bruce Weber, Kevin Stallings, Steve Lavin, Matt Painter, etc. And Keady has glowing praise for his former protege.
Also, when you’re hoping to keep two current players from turning pro, it doesn’t hurt to hire a fiery, late-30s, African-American, former NBA player as your top guy. Here’s guessing Belmont’s 58-year-old Rick Byrd would have had a tougher time keeping Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris in Knoxville. No offense, but 30 years at Belmont doesn’t give a man much street cred among 19- and 20-year-olds.
So, from the MrSEC.com standpoint, no, Martin is not Mike Anderson, the man Arkansas snared for the only other opening in the league this year. But Tennessee couldn’t grab an Anderson-esque candidate in its current situation… and among the fallback, B-level candidates, Martin seems to have as many pluses as anyone.
And it bears repeating — at least this guy’s got a winning record as he moves to the foothills of the Smokies.
Does that mean he’ll win 70% of his games on Rocky Top like his predecessor? Likely not. But the Vols weren’t in a position to hire anyone else who could “guarantee” that kind of success.
This writer bashes the hire and says AD Mike Hamilton will likely be gone soon.
Martin survived a scary bout with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
This writer says Tennessee made a prudent choice in Martin.